Thursday, February 26, 2015

Metacognition: thinking about one's thinking

Metacognition refers to critical analysis of thought or purposeful thoughtfulness. Metacognition refers to the knowledge, awareness and control of one’s own thinking and learning. During Metacognition, one can examine one’s own brain’s processing.  Metacognition is a form of cognition, a higher order thinking process or a supervisory or metalevel system which involves active control over cognitive processes. It can be simply described as thinking about thinking or knowing about knowing or cognition about cognition. Metacognition serves many diverse functions. Metacognition plays an important role in communication, reading comprehension, language acquisition, social cognition, attention, self-control, memory, self-instruction, writing, problem solving and personality development (Cooper 1999). Learning is facilitated through the use of metacognitive strategies that identify, monitor and regulate cognitive processes.

Metacognition-meaning and definition

John Flavell, a psychologist of Stanford University is regarded as a foundation researcher in metacognition.  Metacognition was first coined by Flavell In the mid 1970s. The term Metacognition as used by Flavell (1979) refers to an individual’s awareness of his/her cognitive processes and strategies. The word “Metacognition” combines the prefix “meta” (derived from Greek meaning after, behind, or beyond) with cognition which refers to the process of knowing (derived from a Latin verb meaning “to learn or to know). Metacognition is described as the ability to monitor, regulate and select strategies in doing a task. The strategies can include any methods, thoughts, beliefs, practices, tricks, behaviours or moods that are specifically cultivated to improve one’s ability to learn.

Metacognition is important because it affects acquisition, comprehension, retention and application of what is learned. In addition it may affect critical thinking, problem –solving and decision making.  Metacognition include both knowledge and strategy components. Cognitive and metacognitive strategies are closely intertwined and dependent upon each other. Metacognition involves information processing activities. Metacognition refers to thinking that enables the understanding, analysis and regulation of thought processes. Metacognition is defined as thinking about one’s thoughts (Harris and Hodges 1995). The National Research Council (2001) defines Metacognition as “the process of reflecting on and directing one’s own thinking.”

Metacognitive components

Metacognition consists of two complementary elements such as metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive regulation (Flavell 1979).
Metacognitive knowledge – awareness of one’s thinking – refers to what the learner knows and understands about the task in hand.
Metacognitive regulation – the ability to manage one’s own thinking processes –refers to the strategies the learner uses to complete the task.
Flavell (1979) describes three kinds of metacognitive knowledge.
1.Awareness of knowledge –understanding what one knows, what one does not know and what one wants to know.
2. Awareness of thinking – understanding cognitive tasks and the nature of what is required to complete them.
3. Awareness of thinking strategies – understanding approaches to directing learning.
There are three kinds of content knowledge. Researches support the claim that skilled learners possess declarative, procedural and conditional knowledge about cognition. This knowledge usually improves learner’s performance.
1.Declarative knowledge – knowing ‘about’ things – knowledge of one’s own learning processes and about strategies.
2. Procedural knowledge – knowing ‘how’ to do things – knowing what skills and strategies to use and how to apply them.
3. Conditional knowledge – knowing ‘when’ and ‘why’ to apply different cognitive actions- knowledge about why and when various learning strategies should be used.
Metacognitive regulation refers to a set of activities help learners to control their learning. It includes three essential skills:
1. Planning – involves working out how a task might be approached before you do it.
2. Monitoring – refers to the learners on –task awareness of progress, comprehension and overall performance.
3. Evaluation – requires the learner to review the outcomes and efficiency of the learning experience e.g. revisiting goals and conclusions.

Metacognitive levels of thought

1.Tacit –thinking without thinking about it;
2. Aware –thinking and being aware that you are thinking;
3. Strategic – organizing our thinking by using strategies that enhance its efficacy; and
4. Reflective – reflecting on our thinking (pondering how to proceed and how to improve; Swartz and Perkins 1990).

Metacognition and learning

Metacognition allows learners to take charge of their own learning. It involves awareness of how they learn, an evaluation of their learning needs, generating strategies to meet these needs and then implementing the strategies (Hacker 2009). Metacognitive strategies in learning include planning for learning, thinking about the learning process as it taking place, monitoring of one’s comprehension and evaluating the learning outcomes. Monitoring and reflecting on the process and products of one’s own learning is crucial to successful learning as well as to learning how to learn. Metacognitive knowledge is crucial for efficient independent learning because it fosters forethought and self- reflection. John Dewey often considered the father of progressive education, viewed reflection as a central part of active learning. Metacognitive skills are essential for lifelong learning. Metacognition helps the learners to understand how they learn, their strengths and their needs and better understand the learning process. Palinscar and Brown suggested four concrete teachable metacognitive learning activities: summarizing, questioning, clarifying and predicting.  Ann Brown and her colleagues (1983) describe three ways we direct our own learning:
Planning approaches to tasks –identifying the problem, choosing strategies, organizing our thoughts and predicting outcomes.
Monitoring activities during learning – testing, revising and evaluating the effectiveness of our strategies and
Checking outcomes – evaluating the outcomes against specific criteria of efficiency and effectiveness.

Metacognition and reading

Metacognition plays an important role in reading comprehension. Metacognitively skilled readers are readers who are aware of knowledge, procedures and controls of the reading process. They use this knowledge during the reading process to improve reading and comprehension ability. Reading comprehension refers to the ability of readers to understand the surface and the hidden meanings of the text using metacognitive strategies.  The reading strategies include metacognitive components such as inferring, self-questioning, monitoring, ‘fixing’ and summarizing. Reading for meaning involves the metacognitive activity of comprehension monitoring and reading for remembering includes identifying important ideas, testing one’s mastery of material, developing effective study strategies and allocating study time appropriately.

Metacognition and listening

Metacognition has a lot to offer to listening comprehension.   Metacognitive strategies for listening include analysing requirements of a listening task, activating appropriate listening process required, making appropriate predictions, monitoring their comprehension and evaluating the success of their listening approach (Vandergrift 1997).

Metacognition and problem –solving

 Research has shown that one of the key traits good problem solvers possess is highly developed metacognitive skills and are generally self-aware thinkers. Davidson, Deuser and Sternberg (1994) identified four metacognitive processes that may be applicable in solving problems: identifying and defining a problem, mentally representing the problem, planning how to proceed and evaluating what you know about your performance.  Some of the metacognitive processes involved in problem solving situations include self-planning, self-monitoring, self-regulating, self-reflecting and/or self-reviewing.  Learners with superior metacognitive abilities are better problem – solvers.

Benefits of metacognition

Metacognition is important for the development of critical thinking and effective learning (Larkin2000). Metacognition once learned, supports reflective thinking, helps problem solving, gives responsibility and improves self-confidence for quicker decisions for the rest of one’s life (Kuiper 2002). Metacognition plays a pivotal role in oral comprehension, reading comprehension, problem solving, attention, memory, social cognition, certain types of self-control and self – instruction (Gama2000). Metacognition is closely intertwined with learning to learn, life-long learning, flexible learning, independent learning, and gaining responsibility for learning (Yurdakul 2004). Metacognition is important in project work because learners must make decisions about what strategies to use and how to use them. Metacognitive skills have a positive influence on both problem solving (Schoenfeld 1987) and mathematical problem solving (Hacker 1998). Metacognition enable educators to teach students how to learn as well as what to learn. Metacognitive knowledge is critical in guiding the writing process. As noted by Strickland (1972) “The quality of what is expressed in writing depends upon the quality of thinking that undergirds it.”

Concluding thoughts

Metacognition enables a critical awareness of one’s thinking and learning and oneself as a thinker and learner. Metacognition is crucial to effective thinking and competent performance. Good metacognitive thinkers are also good intentional learners. The function of cognition is to solve problems. The function of Metacognition is to regulate a person’s cognitive operation in solving a problem or executing a task (Vos 2001). “To make an individual metacognitively aware is to ensure that the individual has learned how to learn” (Garner 1988).


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  3. Mr. Victor,
    I have used metacognition as a way to improve my own rate and depth of learning inside of school. Focusing on different strategy's for learning, and providing a good environment to learn in are both essential to the process. It helps me push past the boundaries I set on myself when I cram before a test and forget all of the material afterward. If I truly want to retain knowledge, then focusing and thinking about how I learn and think helps me grasp the material and learn new strategies for studying. Thanks for a great post!